Despite the mounting anecdotal evidence from organisations that taking action on managing diversity makes an important contribution to business performance, there remains ongoing debate as to whether there is any discernible business benefit.
Stephen Overell's article, Dealing with hard reality (Personnel Today, 1 March), points out that diversity is complicated, and the research to support the business case is limited. This article brings different pieces of research together, suggesting that business and moral cases are actually inter-related, and moral arguments influence the ability of employers to get the best from their staff.
Against this backdrop, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has carried out research over a number of years to explore the evidence and resolve this conundrum. It continues to fuel two camps of thought on the subject: those for, and those against. It also continues to confuse those who are working to drive progress.
The evidence we have used to draw our conclusions includes organisational case study testimonies, academic studies on diversity, and other key areas related to employment, such as the psychological contract. This is important because it investigates employee attitudes to work, and relationships with managers and colleagues.
In 2003, the CIPD published a major literature review of academic work by Anderson and Metcalfe, which found that while there were claimed benefits for managing diversity, there were also disadvantages. This outcome came as no surprise - managing diversity can bring pluses as well as minuses.
The key for organisations is to learn how to manage these tensions, including those that exist between different kinds of diversity. However, we are only in the early stages of understanding them, and employing measures to prevent them. For example, there are many more kinds of diversity than the social category differences that inform anti-discrimination law. These include informational diversity categories, and value-based diversity categories.
A diverse workforce includes different types of diversity:
- Social diversity: demographic differences such as age, race, ethics and gender
- Value diversity: psychological differences in personality and attitudes.
- Informational diversity: organisational differences such as education, tenure and function.
Conflict can easily arise between people when working to